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NHS and Apian research chemotherapy delivery by drone

NHS and Apian research chemotherapy delivery by drone
23 September 2021

The Isle of Wight NHS Trust and Apian have begun a three month drone trial to optimise the delivery and access to chemotherapy for their cancer patients.

The Isle of Wight NHS Trust and Apian are researching the benefits to healthcare of transporting urgent clinical items over the Solent using uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs). If the research is successful, the clinical items will include the world’s first delivery of chemotherapy by drone in November. The three month trial, from September to November, hopes to solve some of the logistics challenges experienced as a result of the pandemic by providing efficient transport solutions for medicinal supplies.

Before the Isle of Wight NHS Trust approves flying live chemotherapy for their cancer patients, the University of Southampton, supported by Solent Transport, will test the impact of drone flight (e.g.vibration and temperature) on redundant medicine.

Maggie Oldham, Chief Executive, Isle of Wight NHS Trust, said:
“We are delighted to be part of this pioneering project researching a revolutionary way of transporting life-saving chemotherapy drugs. During the Covid-19 pandemic we have faced several challenges, including unprecedented supply chain and logistical demands worldwide and
this led to us exploring different ways of working to ensure a safe and efficient service for our patients.

"We are truly excited to be working in collaboration with Apian, our university sector partners, Solent Transport and colleagues at Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust to develop an additional way to transport these essential medicines. Moving items by drone across the Solent will help to speed up the delivery of critical supplies from hospitals on the mainland to the Isle of Wight and will ensure our patients receive prescribed chemotherapy drugs efficiently.”

The UAVs are electric, vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft weighing 85kg, with a wingspan of 5m capable of carrying up to 20kg of payload. They were designed and developed by Skylift, who were selected by Apian to be the project’s drone operator partners. They will be based at the British Army’s Baker Barracks on Thorney Island and flown by former RAF, Royal Navy and airline pilots trained by Flyby Technology.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has granted permission for the UAVs to fly in segregated airspace between Queen Alexandra Hospital’s helipad in Portsmouth, to Baker Barracks on Thorney Island and on to St Mary’s Hospital’s helipad on the Isle of Wight.

Apian is funding the trial with a grant from UK Research and Innovation (Drone Solutions for COVID-19: Innovate UK Article 25 Strand) and a contract with Southampton University, supported by Solent Transport on behalf of the Solent Future Transport Zone (FTZ). No NHS funding is involved in this project.

"My mother worked for the NHS in Portsmouth her entire life before she passed away from cancer
3 years ago”, said Apian CEO Alexander Trewby, “this project marks a very important first step in
the construction of a network of drone corridors connecting hospitals, pathology labs, GP
surgeries, care homes and pharmacies up and down the country so that in the future, everyone's
mother will benefit from the delivery of faster, smarter and greener healthcare.”

Find out more about Apian and the project here. 

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